Community Scoop

Do we really want guns in our schools?

Warren L 200x300Warren Lindberg
Chief Executive Officer
Public Health Association

Police figures show they seized 1227 firearms in the last financial year, Police Association president Chris Cahill told Otago University’s Summer School last month. Police know of 13,331 military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs), 40,605 pistols, 4676 restricted machine-guns and 1419 other restricted firearms. An AR-15, a type of MSSA, was used in 1990’s Aramoana massacre and in the recent Florida school shooting.

Guns in American schools have featured for all the worst reasons over the last few years, shaking American’s fervent belief in their constitutional right to bear arms. Is there a risk that we are a bit too smug about our own risk of American-style slaughter?

My own complacency has been shaken by recent news headlines. Early last year, then Education Minister Nikki Kaye learnt that children at some secondary schools were being trained by the NZ Army to learn how to assemble and fire assault rifles. Minister Kaye moved quickly to instruct the Ministry of Education and the School Trustees Association to develop guidelines to clarify when it is appropriate for firearms to be in schools.

Subsequently, then Opposition MP Chris Hipkins called for a Gun City billboard in Taita to be taken down, worried that it promoted an American-style gun culture. And earlier this year the Advertising Standards Authority determined there was nothing wrong with a Gun City newspaper ad urging parents to buy a gun for their children because it clearly did not offend “generally prevailing community standards”.

As required by their Minister, the Education Ministry has established a ‘Health and Safety Sector Reference Group – Firearms in Schools’, which has now produced draft guidelines for schools, parents and communities. A surprisingly lengthy list of reasons for having guns in school is provided. Less surprisingly, because of the makeup of the reference group, the emphasis is on safety rather than health. The reference group includes at least 16 representatives of gun interests – but no-one from the health sector.

The guidelines recognize that “All schools are required to provide
 a lawful and safe physical and emotional environment for students and staff”, and also recognize that some schools might decide they do not want firearms on the school site under any circumstances. But the guidelines proceed on the assumption that it is quite acceptable for schools to choose to include firearms on the premises for both educational and recreational purposes. And there is no discussion of social or mental health issues associated with guns, children and young people.

At the time of the fuss about the Army’s ‘leadership’ training, an Army spokesperson noted that “kids just love guns, you know what kids are like – but they are not toys.”

I couldn’t agree more. But in a society that has bred a generation of kids who are disaffected from school, certainly don’t attend for ‘leadership training’, are alienated from the social norm that abhors gun violence, and have more than a few axes to grind against authority, should we be surprised when some of the guns that cops know about but can’t control because our firearms laws are so loose, fall into the hands of our alienated youth?

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our website: